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AAPG Bulletin


AAPG Bulletin, V. 88, No. 4 (April 2004), P. 447-481.

Copyright copy2004. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.

Controls of oil family distribution and composition in nonmarine petroleum systems: A case study from the Turpan-Hami basin, northwestern China

Todd J. Greene,1 David Zinniker,2 J. Michael Moldowan,2 Cheng Keming,3 Su Aiguo3

1Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-2115; Current address: Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, 1201 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands, Texas 77380; [email protected]
2Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-2115
3Research Institute of Petroleum Exploration and Development, China National Petroleum Corporation, Lab Centre, P.O. Box 910, No. 20 Xue Yuan Road, Beijing, 100083, China


Todd attained a B.S. degree in earth sciences from the University of California at Santa Cruz (1994) and a Ph.D. in geological sciences at Stanford University (2000). His dissertation focused on tectonics, sedimentology, organic geochemistry, and petroleum systems of the Turpan-Hami basin of northwestern China. He is currently employed by Anadarko Petroleum, in Houston, Texas, where he is part of a basin studies team investigating basins and play types in the greater Rocky Mountains, as well as international arenas in southeast Asia.

David A. Zinniker is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Stanford University. His research focuses on molecular fossils of plants and algae and their bearing on ecology, evolution, depositional systems, and petroleum geology. His future projects include using molecular and macromolecular markers to study current ecological processes and events deep in geologic time.

J. Michael Moldowan attained a B.S. degree in chemistry from Wayne State University in 1968 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Michigan in 1972. Following a postdoctoral fellowship in marine natural products with Carl Djerassi at Stanford University, he joined Chevron's Biomarker Group in 1974. Moldowan joined the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences of Stanford University as professor (research) in 1993.

Cheng Keming received his degree from China Geology University in 1958. He is currently a senior geologist and professor for the Research Institute of Petroleum Exploration and Development for the China National Petroleum Corporation. He specializes in coal-generating geochemistry and petroleum resource evaluation.

Su Aiguo received his degrees from the Jianghan Petroleum University (currently named Yangtze University) in 1986 and the Graduate School of the Research Institute of Petroleum Exploration and Development of the China National Petroleum Corporation in 1989. He worked as a petroleum engineer for the China National Petroleum Corporation and is currently a senior geologist at the Research Institute of Petroleum Exploration and Development of PetroChina. He specializes in petroleum geochemistry.


The Chinese National Petroleum Corporation and the Turpan-Hami Petroleum Bureau arranged invaluable logistical and technical support as well as access to outcrop and subsurface data. A. Hessler, M. Wartes, M. Hendrix, and A. Carroll provided excellent field assistance and valuable discussions. Other valuable discussions and reviews were provided by S. Graham, J. Dahl, and A. Holba. Lab assistance at Stanford University was provided by F. Fago, A. Ekuan, P. Lipton, and P. Denisevich. The Houston Advanced Research Center (K. Bissada, M. Darnell, and E. Szymczyk) supported various organic geochemical analyses and sample preparation. Acknowledgment is made to the donors of the Petroleum Research Fund, administered by the American Chemical Society (ACS-PRF), for partial support of this research (ACS-PRF32605-AC2). Additional funding came from the Stanford-China Industrial Affiliates, Texaco, AAPG Grants-in-Aid, and the Stanford McGee Fund. The Stanford Molecular Organic Geochemistry Industrial Affiliates supported biomarker studies. Moldowan and Zinniker acknowledge partial research support from ACS-PRF grant 30245-AC2. Reviews by B. Katz, P. Mukhopadhyay, and S. Creaney greatly improved this manuscript.


Controls on oil family distribution in tectonically complicated, nonmarine, petroliferous basins are commonly difficult to isolate because of the varying ages of potential source rocks, the complex assemblage of organic-rich sedimentary facies, and the geographic variability of burial histories. The Turpan-Hami basin of northwestern China is an oil-bearing intermontane basin where stratigraphic, sedimentologic, and geochemical controls are sufficient to address each of these issues independently and to determine how they influence the current distribution and composition of liquid hydrocarbons.

Source rock age is one of three major statistically significant discriminators affecting oil family composition. Both Lower/Middle (Lower or Middle) Jurassic and Upper Permian rocks are important source rocks for the basin. A newly developed diterpane biomarker parameter can distinguish Permian rocks and their correlative oils from Jurassic coals and mudrocks and their derivative oils.

Source facies is a second key control on petroleum occurrence and character. A variety of biomarker parameters that reflect source rock depositional conditions are indexed to rock samples from interpreted depositional environments. By erecting rock-to-oil correlation models, the biomarker parameters separate oil families into end-member groups: group 1 oils = Lower/Middle Jurassic peatland/swamp facies (high land-plant input, less reducing conditions), group 2 oils = Lower/Middle Jurassic profundal lacustrine facies (high algal input, more reducing conditions), and group 3 oils = Upper Permian lacustrine facies (high algal, stratified, anoxic conditions).

Burial history exercises a third major control on petroleum distribution. Source rock maturation modeling can demonstrate that relatively uninterrupted burial in the asymmetrically subsiding northern Turpan-Hami area (Taibei depression) exhausted Upper Permian-sourced rocks by the Late Cretaceous, which led to southward migration of Upper Permianndashsourced oils (group 3) into Triassic reservoirs of southern and southwestern Turpan-Hami (Tainan and Tokesun depressions). Subsequent to uplift of the central basin thrust that currently partitions Taibei from Tainan, Lower/Middle Jurassicndashsourced oils were expelled in the Taibei depression by PaleocenendashEocene time, which locally charged Jurassic and Cretaceous reservoirs (groups 1 and 2), forming Turpan-Hami's largest oil accumulations in the basin.

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